Why a half-pipe may be more than enough to smoke out the future for the Olympic Games

Youth desperately needs to be served and luckily China’s snowboarder Liu Jianyu and scintillating Asian-American Chloe Kim were up to the task

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 February, 2018, 8:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 February, 2018, 10:05pm

Forget the hair – what little you have left – forget the back, the knees and the hips as well. Forget all your chronic aches, pains and endless maladies because there is only one thing that defines a geezer: Do you watch the Winter Olympics? Cause if you do, you’re old.

The median age of those who watched the 2014 Sochi Winter Games on TV in the US was 55, a terrifyingly flat line demographic for the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Viewership among 18-30 year olds for the 2016 Rio summer games was down 30 per cent from London 2012. The numbers for the Winter Games are even worse, which is why back in 1998 at the Nagano Games, the IOC introduced snowboarding as a medal sport, despite the howls from Olympic royalists that they were letting reprobates with their hip hop music into the regal sanctum.

But what the IOC was letting in was not a generation of flunkey stoners, it was the future. Twenty years later on a radiantly crisp Korean day during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games, that future was on display for all to see.

Artistically, athletically, ethnically and generationally, the women’s half-pipe event was must viewing on so many levels. And who would have thunk that, considering the only thing us geezers know about a half-pipe is that it should be a full one. Still, anyone who dismissed this as a sub-sport is a fool.

Half-pipe is Cirque De Soleil on snow with riders flying some 20 metres high while twisting and gyrating before coming straight back down and doing it again and again. Needless to say, the high high-flying exploits of American Chloe Kim and China’s Jiayu Liu were mesmerising.

No woman has ever defied gravity so magnificently or poetically as the 17-year-old Kim. The America-born prodigy of South Korean immigrants is the most hyped and marketed athlete at these games, embraced by both Americans and Koreans.

The 25-year-old Liu hails from way, way up north in Hegang and won gold at the 2009 world championships as well as six World Cup victories. Charming and hip, she bops and grooves to the music in her headphones while waiting at the top of the half-pipe before sticking out her tongue for the cameras.

It’s playful, not cocky, and her joy and personality radiates naturally in an appealing and liberating look for millions upon millions of youthful mainlanders weaned on social media. The only thing the IOC lusts after more than Asia itself right now is the billion-plus under the age of 25.

Thanks to Kim and Liu, the two coolest faces in the coolest sport are both Asian. But as they both “maximise their amplitude” it becomes abundantly clear that Kim is at a different level entirely.

The judges know it as well and when the dust clears for her last run, she has already captured the gold with Liu the silver. Not only is it China’s first medal of the games, it is also the country’s first ever in snowboarding.

This is a seminal moment for the host of the upcoming 2022 winter games, but it gets lost quickly as Kim proceeds to suck all the air out of the world on her last run. With gold already around her neck, she becomes the first woman ever to do back to back 1080’s in an Olympic competition. It’s an electric performance and along the way she tweets in between runs to a ravenous global audience. Having transcended the hype, Chloe is a massive star before her last run even ends.

Down at the bottom there is a sense of delirium as she embraces both Liu and her compatriot Arielle Gold, who won bronze. Both Kim and Gold are quickly wrapped in American flags. “Where’s your flag,” Kim asks Liu. Seriously, China? Get on your game. “I have to get a flag,” says Liu before finding one. “Yeah, America,” hollers Kim draped in Old Glory.

And why not, this global phenom is so So Cal. Despite the fact that she will only compete in one truly meaningful event every four years, the US will market the bejeebers out of Chloe and good for her and her family.

So far at least, she seems as well equipped as any 17-year-old could be to handle it. But she is American first and Asian second, which gives China a huge marketing opportunity for 2022. Liu is great but she will be 29 in four years and it would be hard to see her closing the gap on a 21-year-old Kim.

However, nobody is better at unearthing prodigies than China. You got four years, get busy. The youth of the world, and a few enlightened geezers as well, await.